Jeff Davis School Board nears vote on 4-day school week

The Jeff Davis Parish School Board is expected to decide next month whether or not to pursue a four-day school week.

“Honestly I think board members are ready to vote yes or no,” School Board President Paul Trahan told the American Press. “It’s a yes or no (vote) at this point. I think everybody I’ve spoken to has heard the information they need to hear.”

Board members are expected to vote on the measure at its 6 p.m. Feb. 22 meeting after hearing presentations this month from five directors and curriculum supervisors who presented research on how the four-day school week affects student test scores, district finances, classroom curriculums and teacher retention.

Superintendent John Hall said staff have been comparing the advantages and disadvantages of four and five-day school weeks for the last two weeks to help board members decide.

A decision is needed so the School Board can begin setting a new school calendar and setting policies for the 2024-2025 school year, he said. The calendar is based on the number of school days.

“The main thing for me is the students,” board member Greg Bordelon said. “To me it was never about money…..I think it is time for us to either vote on it and put it to rest. We have all the information to make a decision.”

While a majority of the community favored a four-day school week in a district survey last year, students of the year nominees are not so sure about a shorter week, according to board member Phillip Arceneaux.

“I was fortunate to sit on the board and interview the students of the year and every student I talked to said we need to leave it as we are because they couldn’t accomplish everything they needed in a five day week and that came from the top kids in the parish,” Arceneaux said.

Test scores

Curriculum Supervisor Francis Leblanc researched school performance scores and tests data for school districts which have operated on a four-day week for two or more years.

“I collected the district performance scores for the parishes for the last 17 years, in those 17 years, the only four-day week parish that ever had a higher district performance score than us was Cameron Parish,” she said. “Of the 17 years of data, they were ahead of us only seven of the 17 years.”

Of the 14 years, some of Cameron Parish has been on a four-day week, Grand Lake High School had the highest school performance score in their district 12 of those 14 years. She said the school carried the district as a five-day week school year until this year.

In reviewing three other school districts which have had shorter school weeks for three years, Leblanc said one of the districts showed a slight improvement, while the other two test scores stayed the same. Tests scores in Caldwell Parish, which has had a four-day school week for 14 years, test scores have decreased overall, she said.

“Before they transitioned to a four-day week, they were 20th in the state,” Leblanc said. “Now they are 30th in the state. So the question is how will this affect our students over time? That’s why we are here for our students.”

Board member David Doise asked Leblanc’s personal opinion on the shorter school week after researching the other parishes.

“I am an educator,” Leblanc said. “I went to school to become an educator. My job was to teach students. I think we would lose a day every week  of education.”

Classroom learning

Curriculum Supervisor Dr. Virginia Sherrill said a four-day school week would require teachers to learn a new pacing, timeline and preparation for implementing lessons. Extra training would be time consuming and cost the district more, she said.

“If we transition into a four-day week teachers are going to have to change the way they teach,” Sherrill said. “They cannot teach one lesson a day because they simply cannot get all of the content taught. They will have to at least teach a lesson and a half a day which is going to be some learning for our teachers because it’s not the way our curriculum is designed.”

“Is it doable? Absolutely,” she continued. “Our teachers are amazing and they can learn and adapt, but it is going to come at a cost.”

Sherrill also addressed student attention spans with 10-12 additional minutes added to each period.

Younger students and those in special education programs would be most affected by the longer classroom periods, she said. She said longer school days could require balancing breaks with instructional time.

She said a supervisor in Cameron Parish told her they are struggling with younger students and are having to bring them outside more for recess, thus losing instructional time in the classroom.

It would also be a challenge to keep older students mentally engaged in learning as well, she said.

Super snack

Child Nutrition Supervisor Tina Coleman said schools would have to provide a third meal, called a “super snack” because of the longer school day.

Currently 1,767 students eat breakfast daily in the parish with 3,632 students eating lunches, she said. Transitioning to a four-day school week could mean many students do not get fed on the fifth day, she said.

In speaking with neighboring parishes, Coleman said Evangeline Parish has 90 percent participating in the “super snack” while Acadia has about 80 percent participation.

Coleman said food service workers would not have time to cook a meal, so any additional meals would have to be prepackaged grab-and-go items. More space would be needed to store those items, she said.

A four-day week would also affect food deliveries and freezer storage space, she said.

“We would have one less day to get items in and distributed,” Coleman said. “If we were to go to a four-day week, we would have to figure out how we fit into that.”

District finances and employee retention

Director of Finance Christin LeGros said the third meal would produce an additional  $100,000 revenue for food service, but would also come with extra expenses including food cost and longer work hours for employees.

In examining the feasibility of a four-day week, LeGros said there would be a slight savings on fuel costs for buses and a small savings on utilities. Heating and cooling systems would remain on even where schools were closed and electricity would continue to be used for athletic events and other school functions.

Salaries and benefits, including daily rate of pay for substitutes, could end up actually costing the district more, LeGros said.

A four-day week would affect salaries, as well as vacation, sick leave, retirement, severance pay and overtime benefits. In addition, every employee contract and personnel file would need to be updated before the start of the school year, which would be time consuming.

Bus drivers would be the only positions that would get to decrease their hours of work, but keep their same rate of pay, she said.

In researching teacher retention and recruitment, Assistant Superintendent Ben Oustalet said most districts with four-day school weeks reported hiring a few more certified teachers. However, the districts could not give a definitive answer if a shorter school week would make a difference in getting more people to apply for jobs within the district.

Currently, he said Jeff Davis Parish has 369 teachers of which 47, or 12 percent, are uncertified with 80 percent moving forward with the program. Three years ago, the parish had 23 percent uncertified teachers, he said.

“I currently feel we are in good shape in how we do things,” he said. “It’s hard for me to predict if we go four days, do I think we will get a few more certified teachers, but I think it is impossible for us to go get 47, but we could possibly get a few more.”

Over the last three years, the parish has hired 20–30 certified people from other districts, he said. The positive work environment in Jeff Davis Parish schools is what attracts people to the district, he said.

“At the end of the day, if you let your people work and you support them and you’ve got discipline, people will come to work,” Oustalet said. “The good news for us is our parish has that reputation.”

He said most teachers leave to move out-of-state or go to a surrounding parish.

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